Shortage of staff is the “number one border security issue” for Customs and Border Protection officers and the problem is perpetuating itself by dissuading officers from recommending the agency as a place to work, the head of the NTEU union, Tony Reardon, has told a House subcommittee.

He called the staffing shortage “staggering,” saying that nearly 1,200 current positions are vacant out of some 25,000 and that an additional 2,500 positions would be needed under the agency’s staffing model. “Even though Congress actually appropriated funding to hire 2,000 additional CBP officers in FY 2014, CBP has only realized a net gain of approximately 900 officers as of December 2017, due to attrition and the amount of time it takes to onboard new CBP officers,” he added.

“The best recruiters are likely current CBP officers. Unfortunately, morale continues to suffer because of staffing shortages. In addition to being overworked due to excessive overtime requirements, temporary duty assignments are a major drag on employees, especially those with families. Based on their experiences, many officers are reluctant to encourage their family members or friends to seek employment with CBP,” he said.

He said the agency should make more use of pay flexibilities such as recruitment and retention incentives; stop requiring applicants to travel long distances for testing, which causes some to drop out of the process; and revise its polygraph testing policies to address reports that have identified some of those policies as creating chokepoints.